The abrasive Scottish balladeer plays it safe on this sonically and thematically repetitive second album
Lewis Capaldi’s voice is one of the most distinctive in modern music: a howl of pain signifying abject emotion, the type of performance that puts singing teachers on edge. In 2019 this voice was introduced to the world who embraced it with open arms, making Someone You Loved one of the biggest songs of the past five years, from the parent album Divinely Uninspired To A Hellish Extent.
Now, on the back of his Netflix documentary Lewis Capaldi: How I’m Feeling Now, comes the difficult second album and its attendant expectations. Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent generally plays it safe, assuming the schtick that’s got Capaldi this far has more mileage in it, which gives the album a competent, workmanlike air.
Putting lead single Forget Me at the top of the tracklist is a strange choice, its lack of intro making it extremely abrupt as an album opener, but it features catchy melodies and interesting lyrics about the long tail of a messy relationship (“You told your friends you want me dead / And said that I did everything wrong / And you’re not wrong / well, I’ll take all the vitriol / But not the thought of you moving on”). Ed Sheeran cast-off Pointless fares less well, as its lyrics end up painting a very simplistic, almost childlike picture of Capaldi’s love interest, an effect that is surely unintentional.
Haven’t You Ever Been In Love Before? sees our protagonist attempting a relationship only to find his prospective partner too jaded from past heartbreak, while Any Kind Of Life scrapes the top of his range, wrapping up with a verse that could have Akon’s lawyers seeing dollar signs over its similarity to Sorry, Blame It On Me. The instrumentation generally isn’t much to write home about, meat-and-potatoes ballad material, though the shimmering sound design at the beginning of Burning is a nice touch and Leave Me Slowly’s ’80s melodrama, courtesy of Robert “Mutt” Lange of all people, is an unexpected treat.
It remains a mystery why Capaldi’s sense of humour, so eagerly deployed in marketing, is completely absent from the music he makes. Does he (or the label) genuinely think there’s no way for him to make some light-hearted tracks without losing credibility, a balance that countless artists have managed? It’s a failure of imagination, and the weaker points on Broken By Desire To Be Heavenly Sent are unfortunately testaments to that unimaginative approach.